A dangerous situation

Published 11:07 am Friday, May 22, 2015

Over the weekend, we had an incident that could have gotten ugly real fast. Franklin Police were called to the scene of a domestic situation involving a gun and, upon arrival, the large male subject was uncooperative and even challenged the officer’s authority.

All the while holding what could have been a gun behind his back.

When the man eventually showed the officer his hands, the subject indeed had a gun in his right hand: a loaded Ruger .45 caliber firearm. The automatic gun has enough stopping power that many prefer it over a pistol with more ammo capacity — a well-placed shot is going to be enough to get the job done.

Now seeing the gun, the officer orders the subject to drop it, and he’s still uncooperative.

In a standoff like this, the odds of one of them leaving in a body bag has just increased substantially, and as the seconds add up, so too does the probability of an unfortunate event.

For sure, if it had been Han Solo from “Star Wars” fame, he would have shot first, asked questions later and left with his life.

Thankfully, members of the Franklin Police Department are not trained like Han Solo, and the officer stuck with the reasoning tactic, eventually getting the subject to drop his gun so that an arrest could be made. Bravo to both of them in what was likely a tense standoff.

Considering the climate around the country, an officer-related shooting could have easily brought down the national media’s onslaught on Franklin. The public might have handled this situation well, but that could be a bit of wishful thinking on my part.

In my experience, the people of Franklin have been very kind. However, after watching how the local government bodies behave on certain issues and other considerations including the self-segregation at community events, there seems to be unresolved racial tension.

In talking with black men, particularly young black men, the subject of the police force is not one that is spoken about in pleasant terms.

Combining distrust of the police with watching TV news anchors going over all of the details of how this hypothetical incident is the officer’s fault, many I’ve spoken to picture the powder-keg scenario happening in other cities would also occur in Franklin. I do believe we have strong community leadership who work with and trust the police, which could lead to cooler heads prevailing here.

Hopefully, we never have to test that theory. Statistics don’t favor that, though. This is not the first incident this year that could have potentially put Franklin on the national media’s map, as I can think of two others just off the top of my head.

Thankfully, Sunday’s domestic situation was also not the first incident that was resolved in a peaceful manner.

It’s easy to point fingers at these police officers around the country, and many of those fingers would be justifiably pointed. But before pointing, you need to imagine yourself in the officer’s boots.

Think about being inserted into a heated situation, and there is a gun or the potential for a gun. Your stress level instantly rises, even if it is not pointed at you. If the subject were to raise his arm and aim, it could easily be the last thing you see. You might be dead before the sound from the blast even vibrates in your ears, as that bullet is traveling faster than the speed of sound. There’s nothing to hide behind, and you can’t get out the door fast enough.

Studies show that most untrained people do fire in such situations out of self-preservation. To not fire, you are going against everything your basic biological structure is chemically communicating to your brain.

For the greater good of us all, somehow these Franklin Police officers have risked making the greatest sacrifice of all and resolved these matters peacefully.

Training only can take you so far, though. If scenarios like this one keep repeating, it’s going to happen, statistically.

The shooting may be completely by the book and justified, or it may not be. The problem is that with today’s public awareness of police shootings, determining guilt or innocence won’t matter until well after all of the damage has been done.

We have a police force that realizes how dangerous this situation is. And they are also willing to go to all ends to prevent it, as Chief Phil Hardison has shown over the past several months with the training he has sought out from the Department of Justice and the lengths he has gone to engage the community on this very topic.

But Hardison can’t do it alone. That’s because on the other end of the spectrum there are people who are afraid of being unjustifiably shot or unfairly treated. After all, there are crooked cops all over the country. I have no doubt many people have had personal experiences or have heard stories from people they trust, which could back this belief up locally. It’s all a matter of perspective, and it’s just as easy to see how intense this situation is in reverse, whether you’ve done something wrong or not.

Hardison is going to need City Council to step up in ward meetings, he’s going to need church leaders to invite him to speak, and the chief will also need neighborhood-level leaders to get him at functions. There’s going to have to be a dialogue among leadership, the police and the community to build that trust, and even then it’s going to take time for any real healing to occur.

Sitting back, hoping a police shooting never happens isn’t the wisest course of action. It’s time for city leaders who are not Hardison to realize this and help him get ahead of it. Only then can we lower the probability of this happening.

Cain Madden is the managing editor of The Tidewater News. He can be reached at 562-3187 or cain.madden@tidewaternews.com.